RALEIGH, N.C. - Carolina came out pumped up for its home opener, but Tampa Bay took the air right out of the celebration.
After a poor showing the day before, the Lightning came out with a more forceful effort on Tuesday, scoring twice in the opening period en route to a 4-1 victory against the Hurricanes in front of an announced sellout crowd of 18,680 at PNC Arena. It’s the second consecutive season Tampa Bay has spoiled Carolina’s home opener.
Mathieu Garon made 35 stops in his season debut, while Tom Pyatt, Cory Conacher, Keith Aulie and Ryan Malone all scored in support of their goaltender. Tampa Bay also blocked 23 shots.
But it might have been two assists by captain Vinny Lecavalier that led the way.
“I think Vinny sets the tone for this team,’’ Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “There were things we had discussed that we were horrible at (Monday) and we wanted the puck deeper and created tons of turnovers at the other team’s blue line (on Monday) that gave the other team a ton of chances.
“And Vinny, right off the bat putting pucks right on net, walking in and forcing himself in with deep work. I think today Vinny did it again, he set the tone and he’s doing terrific work as the captain, I’ve asked him for that before the season started and he’s been terrific.’’
Lecavalier did just that on the first goal, taking a pass from Matt Carle into the zone before circling back toward the boards to throw a backhand pass on goal where Pyatt was able to bat the puck out of midair and knock it past Cam Ward at 5:18 of the first period.
The captain showed another strong effort on the second goal, coming off the end boards and taking the puck right to the crease where Conacher — who has points in all three games to start his NHL career — was able to follow up and put a loose puck into the net at 11:36 for a 2-0 lead.
““I don’t want to single myself out, we all came out hard, and of course we wanted to be physical, bring the puck to the net, all the things we didn’t do in the first two periods (Monday),’’ Lecavalier said. “We played great as a team, we played well defensively, good opportunities and we stayed patient and were not forcing things. It paid off.’’
Unlike the day before, Tampa Bay was able to survive the second period despite finding some penalty problems early, which led to a Carolina power-play goal to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 2-1 after the second period.
Tampa Bay was able to pull away early in the second when Aulie, acquired from Toronto at the trade deadline last year, was able to float down the left-wing side with the puck unchecked and fire a wrist shot past Ward at 1:37 for his third career goal, first with Tampa Bay. Malone then made it 4-1 with a power-play goal at 9:57 for his first of the season.
From that point, Garon was able to make a handful of solid saves among his 15 stops in the third to squelch any thought of a Carolina comeback.
““I started to feel better as the game went on,’’ Garon said. “It took me probably two periods to feel like I was in the game, a bit longer than I was expecting. But you never expect it to be perfect the first couple of games. I’m just happy we were able to win tonight.’’
It all started, however, with the first period that set the tone early.
“We were (upset) over (Monday’s game), we didn’t play the way we wanted to,’’ Pyatt said. “Today we played better defensively, played all above them, took their space away and frustrated them. Getting a couple of goals early in the game helped us a lot, too.’’
Tampa Bay Lightning